One of Oxfordshire's major drug dealers was jailed today after police found cannabis and £68,000 in cash hidden on his canal boat.

The conviction of Alistair Hayhurst, who spent two-and-a-half years on the run from police, has been hailed as a significant victory in the fight against drugs in the county.

Oxford Crown Court heard that in 2005, Hayhurst, a carpenter, set up hydroponic growing systems in two houses at Randolph Street and Howard Street, in East Oxford, to cultivate cannabis plants.

But he failed to attend court after being arrested and remained on the run until being caught by police returning to his canal boat Dreamcatcher at Abingdon Lock this May.

Matthew Corrie, prosecuting, said officers recognised Hayhurst, searched his boat and found 980g of cannabis resin and £50,000 in cash in a backpack and a box on board.

A further search a few days later uncovered another £18,000 in cash, hidden in a secret cupboard under bedroom drawers.

Mr Corrie said: "The Crown would say the money suggested it was a larger scale operation than perhaps it might appear from the amount of drugs."

Father-of-two Hayhurst, 40, had admitted charges of unlawful cultivation of cannabis and possession of cannabis with intent to supply at an earlier hearing.

Peter Du Feu, defending, said Hayhurst had been addicted to heroin, but had managed to kick the habit in the late 1990s.

He said Hayhurst had only set up the hydroponics systems in East Oxford and had taken no further interest in the drugs produced there.

Referring to the cash found on the canal boat, he added: "He knows perfectly well it is drugs money. This was money he was looking after for others."

Jailing Hayhurst for two years, Judge Patrick Eccles said his sentencing powers could have been greater if Hayhurst had been charged with money laundering or another offence relating to the cash.

He said: "You come before the court with a long history of cannabis use which inevitably developed into the cultivation of cannabis.

"The fact you were on the run is a seriously aggravating feature in all of this."

Speaking after the court hearing, Det Sgt Craig Kirby,of Thames Valley Police, said he had not known so much cash to be recovered in a drugs investigation for many years.

He said: "It's certainly a positive result and does indicate the sort of lifestyle he was leading to have that sort of cash.

"We believe he was a key player in the drugs supply in the Oxfordshire area."